Shiraz plays second fiddle to Cabernet Sauvignon in the Coonawarra, and one might suggest this is a good thing, considering the classic status of Cabernet from this region. Indeed, I’ve sometimes wondered at the local tendency to plant a fruit salad of grape varieties with little apparent regard for established regional styles. Two points, then. Firstly, if it tastes good, I want to drink it regardless of region or variety. Secondly, and more specifically, Shiraz has a lineage of some magnificence in the Coonawarra. The Wynns Michael Hermitages from the 50s are an obvious card to play in this regard, and on more personal terms I’ve had many lovely Coonawarra Shiraz wines over the years, including a remarkably ephemeral Redman Claret from 1976, consumed about 3 years ago. So yes, I’ve a soft spot for Shiraz from this region, and it’s with some anticipation that I taste this reasonably priced Balnaves from 2006.
Despite 15% abv (per the back label) and an impressive sense of scale in its flavour profile, this wine manages to retain a degree of elegance on both the nose and palate. Certainly, this isn’t due to restraint in oak treatment or a lack of ripeness. The nose shows lashing of blackberry brambles, coffee grounds and a certain (attractive) twiggy aroma. It’s dense and quite heady, hints of spice adding complexity and sophistication. There’s a hot edge to the aroma, which isn’t overly distracting to me.
The palate follows through with a good dose of blackberry and spice, framed by oak that appears less dominant than on the nose. Indeed, the oak is remarkably well integrated into the flavour profile, adding a cedary, coffeed frame to generous fruit that, after a little tussle, grabs centre stage. The entry is subtle and creeps up slowly, showing mostly oak flavour underneath a rising surge of fruit that finds its full expression on the middle palate. Though the flavour profile suggests rich, ripe berries, this wine stops short of full-on hedonism, and seems between medium and full bodied to me. I think this is a good thing; as the body is contained, a nice tension develops between flavour and structure. There’s plenty of acid and tannin to keep things lively in the mouth; all in balance and well integrated. The after palate is quite light, with transparent fruit flavours and an astringently sappy, twiggy note. The finish is quite satisfying, if a tad hot.
Given its dimensions in terms of flavour and alcohol, this is refined and elegant. Most of all, though, it has that drinkability “X factor” that is rarer than it should be. Go Coonawarra Shiraz!
Balnaves of Coonawarra